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March 23, 2020

COVID-19: How to Manage Financial Troubles

The coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has made mass closings, social distancing and quarantines a new reality, and while these are necessary steps, many people are facing deepening financial insecurity as a result. There are steps you can take to protect your finances.

For one thing: if you have lost your income because of COVID-19, you will likely be eligible for unemployment insurance. See our post here for more information on eligibility.

Struggling to pay bills? Talk to your lenders.

Being behind on your payments can have a lasting negative impact on your credit. You may be able to request a more flexible payment plan, get an extension for your due date, or change the date entirely. Each lender is different – but it’s always best to contact them sooner rather than later. Be prepared to explain:

  • Your current financial circumstances
  • How much you can afford to pay
  • When you’ll likely be able to restart regular payments

For student loans: If you have federal student loans, the Trump administration has announced that all interest accrued and penalties for late or paused payments have been waived until further notice due to COVID-19. Click here to learn about different federal student loan repayment plan options.

For rent payments: Be aware that the Massachusetts Housing Court is closed for all cases initiated solely for nonpayment of rent until April 22nd. In any eviction case, you have the right to “cure” the eviction by paying back all outstanding rent. It is worth trying to talk to your landlord about working out a flexible plan.

For mortgages: You may be able to request a forbearance (a temporary pause or reduction of payments). You may also want to consider speaking to a housing counselor to get advice about your options, or contacting the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office (MA AGO) to get more information and guidance about loan modifications, foreclosures, and more.

For utility bills: There are Massachusetts laws that regulate when essential utilities like water, gas heat, and electricity can be shut off, and there are public assistance programs that may be able to help with paying your utility bills. The AGO may be able to point you in the right direction: click here to look at their resources.

Be especially alert for scams.

The older population is one of the most vulnerable to COVID-19, and also the population most frequently targeted by scammers. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has published this resource to help you protect yourself from COVID-19 related scams. They have also specifically cautioned consumers to be wary of sellers of ‘coronavirus treatments:’ no vaccine or proven treatment currently exists. If you are tempted to buy a specific product, check with a health care professional first.

Lastly: a lawyer may be able to help if you are facing debt collection, eviction, trouble with a UI application, and many other COVID-19 related issues. You can email us a request for a lawyer (lrs@bostonbar.org) or be referred to a lawyer online instantly here.